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GROUND // Casement Park - Antrim GAA (lost ground, Northern Ireland)

The 'lost ground' disease is existing everywhere, even in Northern Ireland we stumbled upon a massive lost ground. Although it isn't 100% for football as we know. Casement Park has mainly been used for Gaelic Football and it's currently still owned by Antrim GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association). They have big plans with the stadium, but reality proves to be very different...

The stadium opened in 1953 and was originally to be used as a multi-use stadium for rugby, football and Gaelic games. History has proven mainly Gaelic games have been played there (Gaelic football and hurling), but there have been rugby and football matches played there as well. No team has ever been able to make it their home ground and the main returning event used to be the Ulster Championship finals (in the Gaelic games).

In 2006 there were talks about building a new multi-use stadium near Lisburn, but after some lobbying the decision was made to completely redevelop Casement Park. A number of years went by and finally in 2011 a large amount of money was set aside for this redevelopment. Plans were being made and in 2012 the announcement came that works would start in 2013 to be finalised in 2015. However, it seems the right permits were never given and the ones given seemed to be unlawful. Ever since (2013 that is) the stadium remained unused. Up until this day the plan to redevelop is very much existing, but opposition blocks any real works.

Casement Park has been named after Sir Roger Casement, a diplomat and Irish nationalist from around the late 19th - early 20th century. He worked closely together with Henry Morton Stanley, with whom he took over Congo for king Leopold II (Belgium). Sir Roger Casement later travelled around the country while writing is Casement Report on the torture and enslavement of the native people. It was his report that eventually led to a complete changed way of working in Congo. He is most likely even more known for what he did for Ireland and his actions as an Irish nationalist. During WWI he was captured by the British for collaborating with the Germans and in 1916 he was executed.

Apart from all of the fun and games in the stadium, there is a very dark history over Casement Park as well (maybe the link with Sir Roger Casement has something to do with it). Mainly during the Troubles (in the 70s) a lot non sport related matters happened in the stadium. In 1971 and 1972 there were rallies against the introduction of internment. Shortly after it was occupied by the British for over a year. In 1979 provisional IRA members displayed weapons at a rally and in 1988 two Army corporals were arrested and interrogated there before being executed on a nearby deserted field. Even in 2001 and 2006 there were rallies to commemorate the 1981 hunger strike.

Let's just hope this wonderful lost ground will finally see a light at the end of the redevelopment tunnel. It deserves a new chance and a new life filled with the joy of any sport; most likely Gaelic games but hopefully other sports as well. If there is one thing our visit to Northern Ireland has learned us it's that any sport has the capability to overcome everything and that we are very interested in going to a Gaelic football game sooner or later.


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